Police criticise safety agency over failed case against Met chiefs

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The Independent Online

A judge and Scotland Yard criticised a government safety agency yesterday for wasting an estimated £3m in a failed prosecution against the country's most senior police officer and his predecessor.

The Health and Safety Executive came under attackfor its decision to take Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and Lord Condon, to court in an "ill-considered" case. The HSE charged the two men with failing to protect officers when a constable died after falling through a roof. PC Kulwant Sidhu was killed when he fell in October 1999 while chasing a burglar. The police criticised the prosecution, which could have led to a ban on other officers chasing suspects across roofs.

Both men were cleared by a jury at the Old Bailey of all safety charges, and the HSE said it was dropping all other charges.

Mr Justice Crane said: "Over £1m of public money ... has been spent on this prosecution. It seems to me the time and money might have been much better spent, particularly in the dangerous times in which we now live."

The judge also called on the public body to review itsdecision-making process.

Sir John said: "I believe that if we had been unsuccessful in defending this ill-considered prosecution there would have been irreparable damage to the way we police in Britain."

Lord Condon added: "This case should never have been brought. It was not in the public interest. It was a huge waste of time, money and effort."

Bernard Hogan-Howe, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: "To prohibit officers from using their own judgement would be a victory for criminals and would encourage more suspects using roofs as a means of escape."

The HSE said that the case was in the public interest and that the police should be treated the same as all public organisations.